I rented the movie Death Defying Acts from our neighborhood video shop last week. After watching it, I spent the rest of the afternoon in self-flagellation. I had this sudden urge to ward off the movie’s smothering boredom.
A ho-hum movie, it offers no thrill, suspense, or even the least joy. In normal times, I would find the subject of Houdini, escapes, and death defying acts captivating. It boggles my mind that the movie benumbs my senses despite its intriguing theme.
A saving grace is that this Australian production has a limited world-wide distribution. This spared the great majority of Houdini fans, escapologists and magic lovers from a movie that could have driven them to wear a straitjacket and hurl themselves off a cliff.
In the technical department, though, the movie gets a passing mark for its lush photography and the actors’ charming performances. However, its enjoyability quotient falls below the genius level.
The movie is a fictionalized account of the implausible love affair between Houdini (Guy Pearce) and an Edinburgh medium (Catherine Zeta Jones). It supposedly happened during Houdini’s European swing at the height of his fame.
I rented the movie expecting to see death defying acts (after all that is how the movie is titled). But apart from the suspended straitjacket and Milk Can escapes, which do not get premium treatment from the film’s director, most of the movie builds toward Houdini’s fling with a medium who is out to con him for money.
Which is ironic, because in real life, Houdini hated mediums to such extent that he made a mini career exposing them. For that matter, making him fall in love with a medium, the movie has to employ a convoluted script writing to create plausibility for its dissonance.
I wanted to see in the movie some of Houdini’s challenge acts as he traveled across Europe (the jail escape, or Siberian Prisoner’s Transport Box). But alas, other escape acts were glossed over in favor of the romantic angle despite the movie’s title “Death Defying Acts.”
Oh, yes, the movie exposes the coin thumb palm. It does not, however, reveal any fraudulent spiritualist’s tricks except the crudest pre-show message acquisition technique—stealing into Houdini’s hotel room and rummaging through his belongings.
Either exposing fake mediums is not in the purview of the movie, or the production staff is lazy to research. Which is a pity, because all the researchers needed to do was read Houdini on Magic (edited by Walter Gibson and Morris N. Young), and they would have dipped into a rich source of methods on how to conduct fake seances, as written and revealed by Houdini himself.
I know movie-makers have artistic licenses to embroider their film with figments of their imagination. Still, the inaccurate portrayal of the account of Houdini’s death would surely dismay the history buffs. In the movie, Houdini’s death scene, from the time he is punched in the stomach to the moment he breathes his last breath, is so abbreviated I couldn’t help entertaining the thought that the director was running out of film.
If it were not for the heavenly experience of watching the luscious beauty of Catherine Zeta Jones, I would have been totally disappointed with the movie.
By the way, Catherine Zeta Jones and I are secret lovers. Our relationship is so secret she doesn’t even know about it.